Mayor Emanuel faces tough questions from teens at Ch. 11 forum

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Chicago Public School students involved in the Mikva Challenge asked some tough questions at a WTTW-Channel 11 forum with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday night. | Photo from Mikva Challenge Twitter

Mayor Rahm Emanuel faced a roomful of teenagers — and a couple of tough questions — in a televised question-and-answer forum on Wednesday.

From plans to transform no-bid contracts in light of the Chicago Public Schools scandal, to how he could make streets more friendly to students taking their bicycles or skateboards to school, Emanuel took on the questions on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” from Chicago Public School students involved in the Mikva Challenge, a youth leadership organization.

Asked about unequal distribution of funds to the city’s schools and the city’s plan to fight for state funding, Emanuel vowed to be an advocate, despite Illinois’ dire financial predicament.

“The governor when he ran said he was going to increase funding to education. . . . I said, great, I want to work with you on that because I don’t think the state should be near dead last on funding,” Emanuel said. “. . . He said I’m going to make sure we’re going to increase our funding for education. Well, we, not just I — I’ll lead the effort as mayor — we have to hold him accountable for that, and we have to make sure that we hold the legislative body accountable for making the right choices so we increase our funding”

Emanuel also said more resources would mean more equal funding for the city’s schools, no matter the neighborhood or type of school.

“Explain how you would improve the equity in Chicago Public Schools. I go to Harlan Community Academy on the South Side of Chicago and we are barely funded, while there are schools downtown such as Jones that are well-funded with gyms and new [expansions]. That money could be going towards our new books,” Jessica Trotter, a student at Harlan, asked the mayor.

“It should not be Harlan versus Jones, but we need to get resources there, which is why we want the money to follow the students,” Emanuel said.

Amid the federal investigation into CPS and the Chicago Board of Education’s $20.5 million, no-bid contract with SUPES Academy, the Chicago Board of Education suspended the contract with the company on Wednesday. Emanuel said he supports the decision and the city must make necessary reforms regarding sole-sourced contracts in the future.

“There’s going to be some changes we have to make across the board so there’s no doubt about how a contract is awarded, especially when they’re sole-sourced,” Emanuel said. “We did it at the city level and we have to continue making the reforms necessary throughout the system.”

The students got plenty off their chests. A student from Alcott College Prep told the mayor he felt like a “big loser” because he couldn’t get into a selective-enrollment school and his parents believed those were the only good schools.

“The pressure to get into a selective-enrollment school has gotten out of hand,” the student told the mayor.

Emanuel told him there’s room for good schools across the city, and the belief that non-selective enrollment schools are worse needs to change: “That’s not true. You look at the graduation rates, you look at the college acceptance that’s going on in our other high schools. We have very good high schools. We need to keep invigorating them with academic programs like a STEM education, like an international baccalaureate, like a military choice . . . and if we do that, parents will know there’s a quality choice throughout the city of Chicago.”

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